April 17, 2013
US Antitrust Keeps Watchful Eye On Google, More Probes Possible
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Last week a coalition composed of companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle filed a complaint with European regulators about what they believe are Google´s anti-competitive behaviors. In short, the companies believe that Google´s Android is a “Trojan horse” which is used to steer more traffic towards their own sites and services.
At a senate hearing yesterday, the Head of the US Justice Department´s antitrust division and the head of the FTC said they´d be willing to investigate Google once more if they heard any new allegations emerge.
Google has already been investigated in the past by the US for their search practices. It had previously been argued that Google not only placed their own sites and services at the top of any search results, but that they would also scrape information from other websites to use as their own. For instance, Google may have taken the address, photographs and operating hours from a bakery´s website and used it to create their own listing and sell this information to their advertisers.
Following their investigation, the FTC found that Google did not rearrange their search results to hurt competitors, but did ask the company to essentially promise they´d stop scraping websites for data. The search giant agreed, but the FTC did not ask for a legally binding agreement to settle the matter. Now the FTC has said they´ll investigate once more if they hear that Google has gone back on their word.
“The agency will take appropriate action if Google does not," said Edith Ramirez, chairman of the FTC in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, according to Reuters.
"I share your concern ... that the voluntary commitments would create confusion over settlement practices at the commission. What I can tell you is that that matter should not be considered a precedent,” added Ramirez.
Assistant Attorney General William Baer also spoke at the same Senate hearing and said the antitrust division of the US Justice Department would be willing to investigate Google once more once they figured out who should lead the new probe.
“We have a clearance process between the FTC and the antitrust division that ensures we aren´t investigating the same thing at the same time,” Bloomberg cited Baer as saying. “We would have a conversation about who is best suited to do it.”
During previous investigations into Google´s behavior, both the Antitrust division of the Justice Department and the FTC have taken the lead to discover if and where Google had hurt competition.
The FTC closed their investigation into Google´s search result practices earlier this year, asking the company only to sign a voluntary agreement and begin licensing out some of their mobile patents to other companies. This investigation began in the summer of 2011 after companies like Expedia and Microsoft claimed Google used some of their content without their permission as well as positioning Google ads and services above others in search results. Microsoft has recently been running an ad campaign to call Google out for these practices.